Ultimately, God is Love beyond our capacity to understand. The purpose of Love is liberation for all people. It’s funny that we spend so much time creating rules to decide who belongs to God when all God wants is to set us free. God’s desire for us is to be free from all that keeps us from being whole, complete, not missing parts of ourselves and trying to fill the empty places with everything that does not fit. God seeks to liberate us from our own fear of inadequacy and finitude, as well as from a society that thrives on kyriarchy. Fortunately for us, God is far more patient than we can imagine.
How many times has God indicated that while human beings are not God, we have infinite value and always have the potential to incarnate Love? Every story in scripture tells of God’s steadfast love for God’s people and God’s desire to liberate us all from everything that prevents us from being God’s people in more than word.
What if those suffering servant passages in Isaiah aren’t really telling us what the Messiah will be, but describing what each of us can be if we truly serve our neighbors with humility and love? What if this is what we were ransomed for? What if this life of loving service is ultimately what God wants from us? What if this is what atonement really looks like?
Think about it. James and John desired, according to Mark’s Gospel, to sit on either side of Jesus in glory. They wanted Jesus to promise them that they would always be the greatest among the disciples, sitting in places of honor throughout eternity. Jesus wasn’t thrilled with their request. First, he didn’t think they could really follow him from death to life. Second, what they asked wasn’t theirs for the asking or up to him to promise. They missed the lesson that Jesus keeps trying to teach. In God’s eyes, greatness looks a lot like humble service.
Jesus isn’t asking anyone to run to the back of the line and prostrate themselves to all who go on ahead. Jesus is asking that the one who has the most, offer their abundance to one who has less. Then one becomes two, and the two invite the next one to share the abundance. Then two becomes three, and three turn to the next and humbly serve… and so on down the line. When it comes to who is the least, the most vulnerable, then there is a crowd to raise them up. The first doesn’t become the last on their own nor are the most vulnerable strengthened with only one set of hands. In community we are transformed into the Body of Christ.
Here’s another way to look at it. Mark tells us that Jesus gave “his life in ransom for many.” For years the primary way Christians have understood this is substitutionary atonement – Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins. What if Jesus wasn’t atoning for anything? What if Jesus death (and resurrection) was to model for us how we save each other? Because the authorities of the day could not tolerate Jesus’ message of love and liberation, they killed him. Yet, God didn’t want violence and hatred to be the end of Jesus’ message, God raised him to new life. Jesus’ death was the ransom for our liberation, the price of our freedom. (In biblical times, ransom was the price paid to reclaim or redeem a person from slavery or servitude; it was the price of the person’s freedom.)
If we commitment to following Jesus, we commit to journeying from death to life. In order to experience the fullness of life, we must offer ourselves in humble service to our neighbors. In a spiritual sense, our lives become the ransom paid for another’s freedom. Love and liberation can be contagious if enough of us embody them, if enough us are willing to let go of our need to be certain of our own power and place in the world.
This is a challenging thought. We live in a society that thrives on individualism and independence. Jesus showed us the way of community and interdependence. None of us can embody Christ on our own; it takes all of us. It takes all of us willing to take on the responsibility of fostering justice for our neighbors. Jesus thought each of us was worth the ransom, the price to redeem humanity. What will it take for us to live that truth? None of us has to endure literal death, but we would have to let go of much of what the world tells us is important.
Long before Jesus came into the world, God demonstrated humanity’s value. Jesus’ life was the price of our liberation, a liberation we have yet to embrace. What if we stop trying to ensure our position as the best and the brightest, and begin to live the truth of God’s great love loud enough to prove that God has not been waiting for us in vain?
RCL – Year B – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – October 21, 2018
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c